Let’s call it an occupational hazard within the animal welfare field: when we get too close to the work, it can be easy to lose perspective. Especially with today’s 24-hour news cycle and the fast-paced, sometimes loosely factual world of social media. I don’t know about you, but checking my Facebook page often makes me feel as if everything’s just falling apart. If we’re not careful, the entire world can feel very gloomy.
Consider, for example, the recently released book, Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. We’ve written about this a couple of times recently — a response to the media’s push for this book. The book has all the right ingredients for the media today. Its core antagonist is the cat, a much-loved animal in the United States. It pushes the narrative that cats, the animals that so many of us love, are not just wonderful companions but are “cuddly killers.” And finally the authors suggest, quite plainly, that killing our beloved pets is a solution to what is a massively trumped-up conclusion that cats kill more animals than could even be possible.
So it should have come as no surprise that the book’s wildly unpopular message
has attracted some media attention. No doubt that was the point of writing the book in the first place. Controversy sells. But the very fact that so much effort was put into such a negative and irresponsible project is telling.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say.
The book’s authors are pulling out all the stops because they have neither science nor public opinion on their side. They are losing the war for the “hearts and minds.” Indeed, there’s never been a better time to be an unowned, free-roaming (“community”) cat in this country. You may have learned that it was National Feral Cat Day yesterday. Below are just some of the highlights of how we’re really winning the war.
One of Best Friends’ keys to success has been the development of a national network of animal welfare groups. Today, our family of network partners comprises more than 1,600 nonprofits and municipal shelters. Among the key challenges for a shelter interested in increasing its live release rate is managing the number of cats entering the shelter. Return-to-field programs, based on the trap-neuter-return method for managing community cat numbers, are easy to implement and can increase lifesaving literally overnight. We’re thrilled to not only see so many shelters putting this program into practice, but we’re also currently working directly in seven communities ourselves (and have worked in 11 others previously) to implement this wonderful, game-changing program.
More resources, please
Late last year, Best Friends released the Community Cat Programs Handbook, a comprehensive online resource covering everything from trapping tips to budget requirements and even legal considerations. Since going online, the handbook has attracted more than 13,000 page visits, a clear indication of the hunger for more information about this important topic.
New thinking saving even more lives
Historically, one of the greatest challenges for community cat programs was what to do with those cats who were unadoptable and couldn’t be returned to their original location (perhaps because a building was being demolished). This has changed in recent years with the increased popularity of “working cat” or “barn cat” programs, such as those operated by Tree House Humane in Chicago and the NYC Feral Cat Initiative (which recently deployed a team to Manhattan’s Javits Center).
Meeting (and surpassing) the challenge
In early April, well ahead of schedule, the Million Cat Challenge, an effort designed to engage shelters in proven strategies to save cats, passed the halfway point: 500,000 cats saved. With more than 1,000 participating shelters, that figure is now up to more than 625,000 cats saved. Congratulations to Drs. Kate Hurley and Julie Levy for pushing forward on this bold initiative.
Imagine the possibilities
In April, following a very successful pilot program, Best Friends and The Animal Foundation launched one of the most ambitious large-scale return-to-field programs to date. The program focuses on zip codes from which the greatest number of cats and kittens enter Las Vegas’ open-admission shelter. This public-private partnership has already saved more than 5,550 lives (fixing more than 1,800 cats) and has become a critical component in The Animal Foundation’s Mission: Possible 2020 initiative.
Getting the word out
Last week, Best Friends staff were making presentations and engaging in discussions with various stakeholders at the National Animal Care and Control Association’s annual training conference and the American Bar Association’s Animal Shelter Law Symposium. And the focus was, by popular demand, community cats. Just a few years ago, such opportunities would have been unheard of, but these days the invitations arrive with great regularity — another indication of the increasing interest in protecting community cats and the people who care for them.
It’s likely that similar milestones have been noted (perhaps quietly) in your community. I encourage you to acknowledge and celebrate these victories. Post on your social media pages about how you are helping cats. Let’s turn all that gloom into a celebration because as far as I am concerned, every day is National Feral Cat Day.
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CEO Best Friends Animal Society